Chadians called to the polls for constitutional referendum

More than 8.2 million voters are called to vote this Sunday in a referendum on the draft of a new constitution based on a decentralised unitary state, with a view to deciding between a political class and a society deeply divided between unitarians and federalists. 22,726 polling stations are open all day for this election during which the yes vote is almost certain to win.

General view of a banner of the National Rally for Democracy in Chad calling on citizens to stay at home during the referendum vote, in N'Djamena on December 13, 2023. AFP - DENIS SASSOU GUEIPEUR

By: RFI Follow


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With our special correspondent in N'Djamena, Esdras Ndikumana

On the one hand, there is the Yes coalition, led by the transitional Prime Minister, Saleh Kebzabo himself. She cast a wide net. Almost the entire transitional government, 216 political parties, a multitude of associations and traditional chiefs are part of it, and it conducted its referendum campaign with very large resources.

In the face of this steamroller, supporters of a federal state have crumbled over time between those who call for a "no" vote and those who advocate a boycott of an election that they consider totally biased. Finally, the rallying of Succès Masra, one of Chad's main opponents, to the yes camp ended up making them practically inaudible.

Under these conditions, the victory of the yes to a "unitary and decentralised state" in the vote that takes place this Sunday is almost undoubted on both sides.

Read alsoChad: "A part of the country is now up in arms and calling for federalism"

« Déjà vu »

Everyone will therefore be closely watching the turnout in this election, especially since the Yes coalition has set the bar very high. She said she was aiming for a victory with more than 80% of the vote.

For its part, the opposition has multiplied its calls for mobilization in recent days for a "no" or boycott of the election. She hopes for a low turnout and a narrow victory for the yes vote to "delegitimize the Idriss Deby dynasty that they want to impose on us."

Even if the text presented in this constitutional referendum is based on a unitary state, it will be "strongly" decentralised, the transitional government assures. "It's déjà vu," say several specialists, pointing to the similarities with the 1996 Constitution. According to Chadian constitutional expert Ousmane Houzibé, the new text incorporates most of the provisions of the 1996 constitution, which is considered on paper to be one of the best that Chad has had, even if in reality it has never been implemented.

It is "an update of the old constitution", insists the professor, pointing in particular to the rehabilitation of the Senate or the High Court of Justice, among others.

Another innovation: the minimum age to be a presidential candidate has been lowered from 45, an article introduced in 2018 to block the candidacy of opponent Succès Masra, to 35.

National Dialogue

The new constitution thus perpetuates the decentralised unitary state, the only one capable of preventing "chaos" and "separatism" from taking hold in the country, according to unionists. While the federalists denounce a text that enacts "a dynastic devolution of power".

A teacher we met on the streets of N'Djamena seemed rather disillusioned. "The problem is that this or any other constitution will never be respected regardless of the outcome of the vote, as has always been the case since Chad's independence," he said. This concern was echoed by the entire Chadian political class and was written down in black and white in the conclusions of the inclusive and sovereign national dialogue, which was supposed to put Chad on the path to democracy.

Read alsoChad: Turnout, the main issue of the December 17 constitutional referendum?

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